I can’t explain it, but lately I’ve been craving Vietnamese food. If you think of chicken soup as Jewish penicillin (and I do), then think of pho as the prescription-strength version of it. Nothing makes me feel better when I’m sick than a steaming, heady bowl of pho. For a quick, inexpensive, and entirely satisfying lunch, I frequently seek out a banh mi sandwich. To satisfy these cravings, I most often turn to Pho Saigon for pho, and Them Hung Sandwich Shop (now Paris Sandwich Cafe) for shredded chicken banh mi sandwiches.
Pho Saigon Vietnamese Noodle House has 8 Houston area locations. The one we frequent is located at 2808 Milam Street, in a small shopping center on the edge of downtown. No matter what time of day you go, the place is always packed, with steaming bowls of pho and plates piled high with fresh herbs and bean sprouts being whisked to tables with lightning speed.
As the menu explains, “Pho begins with an aromatic beef or chicken broth, made by simmering high quality beef, beef bones and spices for beef soup, and free-roaming chickens and spices are used for the chicken soup.”
Pho recipes tend to be closely-guarded secrets, and I have no idea what’s in Pho Saigon’s version. Spices can include cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, cardamom, and coriander.
We almost always start with an order of spring rolls with peanut sauce:
And then it’s on to the pho. On this occasion I got the meatless version. (We’ve learned that a small bowl is plenty.) I like to add a healthy amount of cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, jalapeno, a squeeze of lime, and a dash of sriracha:
One thing I should add — I have not discovered a graceful way to eat pho. It’s one of the dishes that you probably shouldn’t eat on a first date, or with your boss.
For banh mi sandwiches, my new favorite place is Them Hung Sandwich, located in a shopping center at 5700 S. Gessner that is sorely in need of a facelift (which I suppose is a little like the pot calling the kettle black). The owners also have a restaurant called Paris Sandwich Café located nearby at 8282 Bellaire Blvd., which has essentially the same menu. UPDATE 10/14: Them Hung is closed, but Paris Sandwich Cafe is still open.
I have been driving by Them Hung for quite some time, and the 6-year old in me always kinda giggled at the name. This is because way back when, my sister had a friend who I’ll call Haley (because that was his name), and on one occasion, just to be funny, he stuffed a gigantic Otis Spunkmeyer muffin down his pants. When he turned around to face my sister, she looked at him and said, “Why Haley, you’re hung like a muffin!” To this day, when I see the word “hung” connected in any way with food, I picture Haley stuffing it down his pants. I’m sure a banh mi sandwich would be even more impressive than a muffin.
I finally reined in my inner child, and stopped by not long ago to see what the tiny restaurant had to offer. Now I’m hooked. It was a limited menu, mainly sandwiches, which are prepared in front of you at a small counter. You can also get chips, sodas, a few French/Vietnamese cookies, and banana chips.
The restaurant had a small, bright, tidy seating area:
Sorry, these seats are taken
Not being terribly adventurous when it comes to meats I can’t identify, I went with the shredded chicken banh mi. At $3.00 (buy 5, get 1 free!), this has got to be the best lunch bargain around. The white meat chicken was steeped in fragrant spices, and warmed in the microwave before being placed on the crusty baguette. There was the customary shmear of yellow mayonnaise (I have yet to discover what makes it so tasty), a drizzle of secret sauce (presumably fish sauce-based), and a generous amount of cucumber, jalapeno, carrots, daikon, and cilantro. I am in love with this sandwich.
Shredded chicken banh mi
I brought home some of those banana chips from Isabel’s Kitchen, and they disappeared in a blink.
These are not like the chip-a-tooth bland ones in the bulk bins at the health food store. These were deep-fried, with the help of some sugar, to a caramelly, crunchy deliciousness:
UPDATE 10/14: Even though Them Hung is closed, Paris Sandwich Cafe is still open, and serves the same great banh mi sandwiches.
If you haven’t tried pho or treated yourself to a banh mi sandwich yet, stop in to one of these places and find out what you’ve been missing. And if you have a favorite place to go for either of these Vietnamese dishes, let me know!